Biden on the Stump

We fact-check nine claims made by the Democratic presidential nominee in recent campaign speeches.

By D'Angelo Gore and Eugene Kiely

Posted on October 22, 2020

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After months of doing mostly virtual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden returned to in-person events with small, socially distanced crowds in September. He’s kept up his travel in October.

We reviewed Biden’s speeches on the stump between Oct. 12 and 16. He held six events over three days in swing states: two in Ohio, two in Florida and two more in Michigan. All combined, he spoke for almost two hours and 46 minutes, or less than 30 minutes per speech. His shortest speech (in Detroit) was about 19 minutes, and his longest (in Cincinnati) was more than 34 minutes.

Here, we’ve compiled his false, misleading or exaggerated claims from those speeches.

(We published a similar story looking at statements made by President Donald Trump during his stump speeches over the same period.) 

Social Security

In two of his speeches, Biden misleadingly focused on only part of past comments Trump has made about the payroll tax that funds Social Security, as well as only part of a government analysis of hypothetical legislation eliminating that tax.

“We’ve seen his pledge, quote, ‘to terminate the tax dedicated to financing Social Security,’” Biden said in Toledo, Ohio. “You know what the actuary at the Social Security department said? If it goes through … it will actually bankrupt, bankrupt Social Security by the middle of 2023.”

Biden speaks Oct. 12 during a visit to UAW Local 14 in Toledo, Ohio. Photo credit: Adam Schultz / Biden for President

In an Aug. 24 letter, the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary said eliminating the Social Security payroll tax without providing an alternative source of funding would deplete the trust fund for retirement benefits by 2023, “with no ability to pay” benefits after that year. But that’s not what Trump has proposed, as we’ve written before.

On multiple occasions in August, the president said if he wins reelection he would look at “ending” or “terminating the payroll tax.” However, White House and Trump campaign officials said the president only wants Congress to forgive a four-month Social Security payroll tax holiday for employees that he authorized that month. Congress could transfer money from the government’s general fund to make up the lost tax revenue, Trump said.

Even when Trump said he was “going to terminate the payroll tax,” as he did in an Aug. 12 press conference, he said the money to pay benefits would instead come from general revenues. In the Aug. 24 letter, the chief actuary said a law with that stipulation would leave the Social Security program “essentially unaffected.” 

Preexisting Conditions

One of Biden’s most frequent claims was that if Trump gets his way, and the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act in an upcoming case, protections for more than 100 million people with preexisting health conditions would be jeopardized.

“[I]t’s all about wiping out the Affordable Care Act, which has been an obsession for this president since he became president,” Biden said in Cincinnati. “That’s going to take away preexisting conditions coverage for a hundred-plus million Americans.”

The 100 million figure is an estimate of how many Americans not on Medicare or Medicaid have preexisting conditions. The ACA instituted sweeping protections for those with preexisting conditions, prohibiting insurers in all markets from denying coverage or charging more based on health status. But only those seeking coverage on the individual or nongroup market would immediately be at risk of being denied insurance.

Even without the ACA, employer plans couldn’t deny issuing a policy — and could only decline coverage for some preexisting conditions for a limited period if a new employee had a lapse in coverage.

As of 2018, nearly 20 million people, or about 6% of the U.S. population, got coverage on the individual market, where those without employer or public insurance buy plans.

Health Insurance

Also in Cincinnati, Biden blamed Trump for millions already losing health insurance during the pandemic. “Because of his mishandling the economy and COVID … 10 million people have already lost their employer-based health insurance, 10 million,” Biden said.

As we’ve written, the Urban Institute did estimate that 10.1 million people were expected to lose their employer-based health insurance during the COVID-19 recession. But Biden neglected to mention that study also said that most would regain insurance from another source, leaving 3.5 million uninsured.

Face Masks
Biden speaks Oct. 16 at the Beech Woods Recreation Center in Southfield, Michigan. Photo credit: Adam Schultz / Biden for President

In his Southfield, Michigan, speech, while stressing the need to wear face coverings during the pandemic, Biden said of Trump: “It’s estimated by his own folks, if we just wore masks nationally, almost 100,000 lives would be saved in the next few months. His own director of CDC said while we’re waiting for a vaccine, even if we had a vaccine, this [mask] will prevent more deaths between now and the end of January than a vaccine would.”

As we’ve noted before, 100,000-plus preventable deaths was a projection from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation — not the Trump administration. On Sept. 3, IHME said increased face mask use in the U.S. could save 122,000 lives between early September and Jan. 1, 2021. As of Oct. 15, IHME said with almost universal face mask use, 74,000 lives could be saved from then until Feb. 1, 2021.

Also, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield did tell senators in congressional testimony in mid-September that face masks currently “are the most important, powerful public health tool we have” against COVID-19.

“I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings,” Redfield said. “I have said it, if we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks we would bring this pandemic under control. … We have clear scientific evidence they work and they are our best defense.”

As far as comparing face masks and a vaccine, Redfield didn’t definitively say the former would save more lives — although he said masks may offer more protection. “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine,” Redfield told the Senate panel.

He later clarified his remarks on Twitter. “I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a #COVID19 vaccine. A COVID-19 vaccine is the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life,” he wrote. “The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds. #COVID19.”

Misquoting McConnell

As he frequently does, Biden misquoted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s response to Democratic attempts to help cities and states that have lost revenue as a result of the pandemic.

“But you know what Mitch McConnell said recently about helping the states and cities. He said, quote, ‘Let them go bankrupt,’” Biden claimed in his Toledo speech. But, as we’ve written, McConnell said bankruptcy should be a legal option for states facing money woes unrelated to the coronavirus, such as debt due to pension programs.

In an April 22 radio interview, McConnell said: “I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route,” when asked about states with budgetary woes predating the pandemic. The Republican senator made clear in subsequent interviews that he was saying bankruptcy should be “an option” to “fix age-old problems” in states “wholly unrelated” to the coronavirus pandemic. “I wasn’t saying they had to take bankruptcy,” he said in an April 27 Fox News Radio interview. “I think it’s just an option to be looked at, that unfortunately states don’t have that option now, cities do.”

Ivy League Presidents

Biden, who graduated from the University of Delaware and Syracuse Law School, sometimes tells the story that, if elected, he would be the first non-Ivy League president in U.S. history or, as he said more recently, at least the first in 80 or 90 years. But it’s not true.

In Toledo, Biden said he has a “little bit of a chip on my shoulder about guys like him,” referring to Trump, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance. “I read some stories after I got the nomination that quote, ‘If Biden gets elected, he’ll be the first non-Ivy League school graduate to get elected in … 80 or 90 years,’” Biden said. “But folks, since when can someone who went to a state university not be qualified to be president?”

It’s true that the last five presidents earned degrees from Ivy League schools. But Ronald Reagan went to Eureka College. Jimmy Carter graduated from the United States Naval Academy. Richard Nixon graduated from Whittier College and Duke University Law School. If Biden would win, he would be the first non-Ivy League president in 32 years.

Auto Bailout
Biden speaks Oct. 13 at the Southwest Focal Point Community Center in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Photo credit: Adam Schultz / Biden for President

At one of his two Michigan events, Biden recalled how, “over the objections of many, we stepped in and rescued the automobile industry,” referring to himself and former President Barack Obama.

The Obama administration can claim credit for helping to resuscitate the auto industry after the 2008 economic crisis. However, as we’ve explained, the rescue effort began on Dec. 19, 2008, when then-President George W. Bush announced his administration would provide General Motors and Chrysler with $13.4 billion in loans under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, plus an additional $4 billion to GM after Congress approved releasing the second half of TARP funds. As part of the deal, the automakers were required to come up with a long-term viability plan by March 31, 2009.

The companies’ viability plans were ultimately rejected on March 30, 2009, by Obama, who later announced an agreement on a restructuring plan for Chrysler and GM on April 30 and June 1, respectively. As a result, the automakers filed for bankruptcy, restructured their companies and got more federal assistance. In total, the Treasury Department invested about $80 billion in the auto industry and ended up getting back all but $9.3 billion of that amount.

Beau Biden

In nearly all of his stump speeches, Biden mentioned his late son, Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015. But in his remarks in Pembroke Pines, Florida, Biden falsely suggested that Beau was the only “foreigner” to have his own monument and highway in Kosovo. 

“My son volunteered to go to Iraq for a year,” Biden said of Beau, who served in the Delaware Army National Guard. “Before that, he had been in Kosovo for eight months. Best of my knowledge, the only foreigner who has a war monument and a major highway in that country named after him for his contribution to helping them set up their criminal justice system.”

In 2016, the Kosovo government did unveil a statue dedicated to Beau, “who worked in Kosovo after the 1998-99 war ended, helping train local prosecutors and judges for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,” according to Reuters. The country also renamed a highway leading to an American military base after him as well. But he’s not the only American to receive such an honor.

As Time magazine wrote: “The ethnically Albanian and predominantly Muslim statelet at the southern-most tip of what was once Yugoslavia is perhaps the most pro-American country in the world. Its capital, Pristina, has boulevards named for presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (spelled Xhorxh Bush) and a street named for Bob Dole. It also features an 11-foot tall statue of Clinton.” The statue of Clinton was revealed in 2009.

Reuters said: “Clinton, as leader of the NATO alliance, is seen as the man who decided to bomb Serbia to force the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his forces from Kosovo, effectively handing victory to the Kosovo Liberation Army.”

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